ELOY — The response was always the same from Eloy Police Department personnel when it came to talks about a new police station: “We’ll believe it when we see it.”
While there’s still a bit of work to be done before the project is completed, those longtime staff members who never thought they would see it happen during their career can finally believe it.
Last week current and elected City Council members along with city staff got another glimpse of the indoor progress to the Police Department renovation project.
“It’s been very exciting to watch and witness,” Police Chief Chris Vasquez said. “What’s fun to watch is the excitement that’s developing over at the PD. A lot of officers said ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ or ‘I never thought it would happen in my career’ and to watch them come over here, I’ll catch them sneaking over here. They’ll come around the back and they’re walking around, looking at it, just to see the excitement in their eyes.”
Vasquez, who grew up in Eloy, took over as chief three years ago after a long history of working in law enforcement with the Casa Grande Police Department and as Pinal County sheriff.
During those years he also witnessed the construction of new buildings with both agencies, so he’s familiar with everything that goes on. But what he has always enjoyed is seeing the reaction from his staff.
“That’s been the most rewarding for me,” Vasquez said. “I’ve done this before but what’s most exciting is to watch the officers and the morale and the excitement of watching this come into fruition.”
The renovated building will be much larger and more technologically advanced than the current police station, which will make it a lot safer for everyone involved.
There is bulletproof glass inside the building, and there will be two juvenile cells, four adult cells and a padded cell.
The only way to enter and leave the building is with either a key card or a punch code, which will make it difficult for detainees to escape, and then there will be a secured parking area in the back.
“This right here will incredibly increase what we can do to make working here better,” Vasquez said. “The morale will be a lot better and the other part is it will be safer for us to do our jobs. It’s really going to be nice, but nothing will change; it’s get them in, get them processed and get them out. Either cut them free or send them over to Florence.”
A big concern was the appearance inside the building and leaving the brick wall visible from when the fire station was located there. But as many people stated on the tour: “It’s one of the best features.”
“I’m glad they kept that, it’s nostalgic,” Vasquez said.
With everything surrounding law enforcement right now, Vice Mayor Micah Powell and Vasquez hope that the renovated building will be used as a hiring tool.
“It makes it even harder (now) to recruit new applicants, people just aren’t wanting to get into the profession,” Vasquez said. “When I first got here three years ago, we’d get almost 100 applications for jobs.”
ELOY -- Hannah Hartman and Davin Ethington are not your everyday teenagers who attend school while participating in sports and other school-related activities.
During their free time, both Hartman and Ethington can be found at the fire station or helping out on an emergency call with firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Ethington and Hartman are part of the Eloy Fire District’s Explorers program, which allows them to have that hands-on experience in the field by participating in ride-alongs.
“When other kids are just hanging out and doing whatever they do on weekends, these guys are here doing ride-alongs and really working their butts off,” Battalion Chief Derrick Ethington said.
While the program does offer that firsthand experience, it goes beyond the everyday duties that are performed at the fire station. Kids who are part of the program also go through interviewing skills and learn how to fill out job applications and resumes.
“The idea and the premise behind Explorers, because it’s through Boy Scouts, is to kind of prepare kids for real life,” Derrick Ethington said. “We’ll do like mock interviews with them and that kind of stuff so that whether they want to be a firefighter, part of Eloy Fire or if they want to go somewhere else and do a different job, they’re going to be much more prepared to go in and do a good interview. That kind of stuff just doesn’t get taught a lot anymore.”
Hartman and Davin have both grown up around the fire station. Both of their dads are battalion chiefs, which is a big reason they took an interest in joining the program.
“I’ve been interested in it my entire life, in being a fireman,” Davin said. “This was my choice. I actually came to him about it. It was just a whole new experience. When I joined I was like Hannah’s size and being around all these big firemen and big gear and everything, I could barely pick up a pack. That was the worst thing for me, the pressure. Trying to get everything right even though you’re not going to get it right the first time.”
The Explorers program is for kids who have completed eighth grade but younger than 21. Additionally, they have to maintain a C average in school and must spend at least 12 hours per month involved at the fire station.
Hartman joined the program as soon as she met the age requirement.
“I walked in, and I was completely unprepared,” Hartman said of her first day in the program. “I didn’t pay any attention when my dad was working here so I got here and like, ‘I have no idea what’s happening right now.’ My family is not really good with quitters; I walked in and had my adviser open (the ambulance) and show me everything and then with the engine, letting me do truck check-offs with them, then just slowly going through everything and eventually I loved learning all of that. That was one of my first (experiences), and it was awesome.”
By starting off in the Explorers program at a young age, Hartman and Davin already have a leg up on their future competition who may just be starting out with other programs like the one offered at Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology.
While CAVIT does offer the Firefighter I and II certification, which is needed to begin a career as a firefighter, the Explorers program goes further.
“These guys literally get to jump in the back of an ambulance and go to a rollover and see everything and help with taking vitals and doing all that stuff,” Derrick Ethington said. “It’s kind of like the difference between going to college and learning something but then getting out in the field and actually doing it. They’re kind of doing it backwards, but it makes it so when they go into the classroom they have a whole different perspective, all the stuff that they’re talking about they’ve already seen and done by doing ride-alongs.”
The two also participate in other extracurricular activities. Hartman is an FFA officer and is involved in SkillsUSA, and Davin plays football and wrestles, which leads to a big juggling act of making time for everything.
“I try to schedule a ride-along whenever I’m free,” Davin said. “We do a lot of chores, and we just go on calls with them and they show us stuff. I enjoy helping people. I like getting my hands dirty and learning new things because you never know when you’ll need it in life.”
He added that he enjoys the firefighting side of the program and working with all the big equipment. The most difficult part for Davin is the medical side of things because he’s not good at memorizing.
For Hartman, it’s the opposite. She enjoys working with the EMTs and struggles with the heavy gear that firefighters use.
“I enjoy the ambo calls,” Hartman said. “I love the gore and blood. Like fire’s cool but I love the medical side of things. I’m not the biggest person, and I don’t have a lot of muscle mass so I have to work for it if I want to do something. It takes a lot of practice; it takes a lot of time getting to know how things work. Technique is a big thing because I don’t have a lot of muscle mass like the guys do.”
Derrick Ethington believes that the most difficult part for the Explorers is the juggling act of school, homework, extracurriculars and being an Explorer.
“They’re so involved in so much stuff already that to be able to make the time for this, they have to want to do it,” he said. “It’s a big testament to their dedication, and it’s pretty cool when you see somebody 14, 15, 16 years old being willing to put that time into something. It doesn’t really happen very often these days.”
While it is cool for the Explorers to be out on actual calls and the firefighters do enjoy having an extra pair of hands to help out, there’s always that bit of concern, and the firefighters keep an eye on them.
“When we go on freeway calls and things like that, we put them in a safe-as-possible position,” Derrick Ethington said. “The job’s dangerous intrinsically anyways, but we try to keep them in a safe position. We usually don’t try to put them in a situation until we’re comfortable with their abilities. But I think for the most part the guys like having the Explorers around because firefighters in general just like to teach and they like to pass on their knowledge.”
Hartman and Davin hope to follow in their dads’ footsteps of working for a fire department.
“It’d be a big thing for me,” Hartman said. “I think I’m a fourth generation to do this in my family, and I’ve heard the stories and I’ve heard all this stuff and it’s never been something where I’m like, ‘I don’t think I want to do that.’ I’ve always loved the stories, and I’ve always loved listening to them. As soon as I got here, I loved it.”
For Davin it’s a similar sentiment of hearing everything that his dad has been able to accomplish.
“My dad went from having nothing,” he said. “He lived on his own the first few years to being battalion chief at a fire department, which to me is a big accomplishment. So that’s what I want to be, and I’ve been around it my entire life. It’s my livelihood, I guess.”
It is possible to start off as an Explorer and eventually end up with a full-time position at the same fire department. Everything has come full circle for Vince Ramirez.
Ramirez started off just like Hartman and Davin in 2011 and is now a firefighter/paramedic and is the Explorer adviser.
“It means a lot to me just being a local and being able to say that I’ve gone from the very bottom and I’ve worked my way to come so far,” Ramirez said. “It’s meant a lot to me. I’m the first generation to do it so it was really, really new to me.”
ELOY — For 75 years, there has been a Lions Club in Eloy. Its main focus has always been eyesight conservation, but in recent years member participation has dwindled and now one member is hoping to rejuvenate the club.
City Councilman J.W. Tidwell has been a member of the Lions Club for two decades and has held many different positions within the organization.
In the past two years Tidwell has seen the club become dormant as members have lost interest.
“It was getting to the point where it was a social club,” Tidwell said. “We didn’t do anything except show up, have dinner and go home.”
According to Tidwell, Lions Clubs International recently made current members go through the application process again, which led to the decision of wanting to change the image of the chapter in Eloy.
“We don’t want it to be a social club. We want it to be a city club that does stuff,” Tidwell said. “We want to get the city involved because they know what house has elderly people that need their yard cleaned or that need something done.”
Other current council members are planning to join the Lions Club, including Vice Mayor Micah Powell.
While Lions is best known for its effort with the SightFirst Program, it is also an organization that helps the community by taking care of the environment, feeding the hungry and aiding seniors and disabled persons, which is what Tidwell is striving for with trying to rejuvenate the local club.
“I don’t think people realized the benefit they had when they needed glasses or they had the need for it,” Powell said. “Now it’s our time to make a difference and really go out and help the people. It’s the Lions Club 2.0, the upgraded version. We’re not taking away from the past, but now we have a different sense of energy, a different type of vision.”
Tidwell said that when he first joined in 2000, the Lions Club would hold a Thanksgiving dinner fundraiser where around 150 meals were served. Members would also have an adopt-a-street day where they would go out and clean a specific area around town.
“That’s what we’re shooting for, to do things in the community,” Tidwell said. “We’d like the younger ones to come out. If they don’t want to be a member, come out and help us do this project. We’re not going to say, ‘You’re not a member, you can’t help us.’ There’s no requirement other than you want to help.”
While the Lions Club has progressed from a men’s only club, Tidwell fears that the lack of interest could lead to its headquarters at 109 E. Fifth St. eventually becoming vacant and abandoned like the Dust Bowl Theatre.
“I think this is an opportunity for our generation to do something,” Powell said. “You always hear about Eloy in the past and how it was, the great times and all the cars and all the businesses. We’ve changed with the times; we have a clear canvass, and we can make this into whatever we want for our generation. I think it’s important that we get involved in this.”
The few remaining members meet at 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of every month. There is a membership fee for those who wish to join. For more information, contact Tidwell for an application or stop by during a meeting.